Archive | Reliability


10:03 pm
June 13, 2016
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Use Thermal Imagers To Identify Motor Trouble

Making and cataloguing thermal images part of your regular preventive maintenance routine will help determine when and what motor components are varying from their baseline.

Making and cataloguing thermal images part of your regular preventive maintenance routine will help determine when and what motor components are varying from their baseline.

Infrared cameras, also called thermal imagers, can be important tools for troubleshooting motor problems, as well as for monitoring motor conditions for preventive maintenance. Infrared images reveal a motor’s heat signature, which can tell you a lot about its condition. The condition of motors, in turn, can play an important role in keeping plants up and running and their operating costs down.

According to experts at Fluke Corp., Everett, WA, here are some tips for scanning motors and drives with thermal imagers:

Build motor heat-signature profiles.
Capture good quality infrared images when the motors are running under normal operating conditions. That gives you baseline measurements of component temperatures. Make infrared images of all of the critical components, including motor, shaft coupling, motor and shaft bearings, and the gearbox. Note that when working with low electrical loads, the indications of a problem can be subtle. As a load increases, the temperature will increase. If a problem exists, expect greater temperature differences at higher loads.

Note nameplate information and hot spots.
A motor’s normal operating temperature should be listed on the nameplate. An infrared camera cannot see the inside of the motor, but the exterior surface temperature is an indicator of the internal temperature. If a motor is overheating, the windings will rapidly deteriorate. Every 50-deg. F increase in a motor’s windings, above the designed operating temperature, cuts the winding life by 50%, even if the overheating is only temporary. If a temperature reading in the middle of a motor housing comes up abnormally high, an IR image of the motor can tell you where the high temperature is coming from, i.e., windings, bearings, or coupling. If a coupling is running warm it is an indicator of misalignment.

Know the three primary causes of abnormal thermal patterns.

  • High-resistance contact surface, either a connection or a switch contact, often appears warmest at the spot of high resistance.
  • Load imbalances can appear equally warm throughout the phase or part of the circuit that is undersized/overloaded. Harmonic imbalances create a similar pattern. If the entire conductor is warm, it could be undersized or overloaded. Check the rating and the actual load to determine the cause.
  • Failed components typically look cooler than those that are functioning normally. The most common example is probably a blown fuse. In a motor circuit, this can result in a single-phase condition and the possibility of costly damage to the motor.

Create regular inspection routes and compare images.
It is a best practice to create a regular inspection regimen that includes making thermal images of all critical motor/drive combinations. Ideally, these images are made under identical operating conditions to have apples-to-apples comparisons. Comparing current state images with baseline images can help you determine whether a hotspot is unusual and also help you verify if any repairs undertaken were successful. A thermal imager can easily transfer images into software for cataloguing. Sharing can be invaluable in this effort. MT

For more information on thermal-imaging best practices, visit


9:54 pm
June 13, 2016
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Five IT Mistakes That Make You Vulnerable

USB Flash Drive extremely close up. Macro image.

USB Flash Drive extremely close up. Macro image.

Two topics dominated the recently held Hannover MESSE trade show (April 24 to 28, 2016, Hannover, Germany). The topic promoted by the show organizers was Industry 4.0/Internet of Things technology. The other topic that stood out was cyber security, primarily because it’s hard to use Industry 4.0 technology and not rely on a ton of data, the transfer of which makes manufacturing systems vulnerable to outside intrusions.

The one cyber-security-related question that has remained with me since the show is, What are the most common mistakes/assumptions companies make that result in system vulnerability? For answers to that question, I turned to Vincent Turmel, senior cyber-security consultant with Siemens Plant Security Services, Digital Factory U.S. Turmel identified the following five assumptions that companies make when it comes to the vulnerability of their automation and control systems.

—Gary L. Parr, editorial director

Our systems are air-gapped.
Most often, even systems assumed to be isolated from the Internet are somehow connected to the business network. Business networks are typically connected to the Internet. This often comes as a surprise to people in charge of those systems and commonly results from pressure to generate real time KPIs and allow remote monitoring/maintenance of key equipment.

A careful review of key manufacturing functions will usually reveal where data are being exchanged between manufacturing systems. An on-site industrial security assessment will also discover connections to the business level (or even directly to the Internet, in the worst cases), forgotten modems, and other gateways to outside systems, such as an engineer loading data onto an engineering station by using a USB device, allowing the possibility of malware infection.

Our company is not a target.
Most companies have been victims of cyber incidents, even if not intentionally targeted. Computer worms and viruses are rarely aimed at your company but can still seriously damage your business. Phishing attacks, focused on social media, can enter your company systems through employee private emails and by using company computers to browse websites. Once in, it’s rarely a challenge for malware to propagate throughout a network. A holistic approach to cybersecurity, based on the IEC 62243 Defense in Depth concept, is the best strategy to deal with all potential threats.

We have technical controls in place.
Many companies believe that they have adequate security in place since they use firewalls, have networks segmented using VLANs, and have antivirus software on their computers. Technical controls, such as these, are vital. However, a Defense in Depth approach is critical, ensuring multiple measures that involve people, processes, and technology. Technical controls need to be supplemented by policies and processes that make clear what is an appropriate use of systems and expected user behavior, particularly for the use of removable memory-storage devices.

IT is responsible for cyber security.
Many users assume that it is the responsibility of the IT department to protect all company systems. IT can help deploy technical solutions and create generic policies and processes. However, some areas, the shop floor for example, may need to take exception to IT policies that are not applicable in an environment where rebooting a server monthly to apply software patches is not possible due to 24/7/365 operations. Applying any patches to PCs running critical applications requires elaborate vendor test and approval. Otherwise, such changes might lead to incompatibility and, in worst-case scenarios, to a system stop.

Real time visibility for my security ‘risks’ is not needed.
The threat landscape is changing rapidly and 100% security does not exist. Preventive measures (technical controls, people awareness, and procedures) are key, but are not sufficient. Being able to detect when you have not been able to prevent an intrusion or incident is also very important but is rarely deployed in plant-floor systems. Monitoring endpoints, networks, and firewalls, with the help of a security information and event management (SIEM) system, should be deployed to help recognize the signs of a security incident so that it can be promptly identified and mitigated before significant damage is done. MT

For more information about the Siemens Digital Factory, click here. The Siemens U.S. headquarters are located in Buffalo Grove, IL.


7:34 pm
June 13, 2016
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Upgrading Legacy Power Systems

Upgrading to new equipment requires careful analysis and planning to avoid extended downtime.

Upgrading to new equipment requires careful analysis and planning to avoid extended downtime.

A Q & A with Danita Knox, GE Energy Connections.

When’s the best time to upgrade a power system? According to Danita Knox of GE Energy Connections, Atlanta, it can vary. Consider the following situations as ideal opportunities:

  • if a facility had or is planning a significant expansion that might affect overall power-system loading
  • if a recent arc-flash study revealed significant incident levels or danger of exposure for electrical workers or operators
  • if personnel are having difficulty locating replacement and spare parts for the site’s electrical system
  • if plant personnel desire better monitoring of the overall power system.

Once the decision has been made to move forward on an upgrade, what’s next? We asked Knox for some insight into what facilities can do to make these projects go smoothly.

MT: What trends in power-system upgrades are you seeing among older installations?

Knox: One trend involves customers replacing older electromechanical relays, meters, and trip units with newer digital “smart” equivalents. This provides a single, multi-function device that incorporates communications (local and network), event logging, and monitoring (graphical screens and remotely using web tools). Critical applications include upgrading to smart switchgear offerings that feature built-in monitoring, diagnostics, redundancy, and remote-control capabilities.

Facilities are also adding devices to their power systems that help locate workers further away from the equipment they operate. This is done, in some cases, by adding remote racking devices to existing breakers or using robot-type devices to operate equipment from a safe distance. We’re seeing more sites updating old fused devices, such as a load interrupter switch, with faster-operating vacuum breakers and relay equivalents that reduce arc-flash incident levels.

Finally, with limited budgets for large capital projects in many plants, it’s essential for them to find ways to extend the life of their existing equipment. To that end, facilities are often looking at retrofit options.

MT: What tips do you have for sites that are embarking on a power system upgrade?

Knox: Ideally, it helps to start with a comprehensive arc-flash study. This can provide remediation suggestions on how to reduce arc-flash exposure levels and improve personnel and equipment safety. To begin an arc flash study, an operation needs an accurate schematic or diagram of the facility. Plant personnel familiar with the electrical system can usually collect the information needed to build this diagram. An accurate schematic also provides critical information that can be a great tool to develop safe and proper LOTO (lock-out/tag-out) practices.

With a thorough arc-flash study, plant operators can then evaluate multiple options that help define steps to start upgrading a power system. Upgrade projects can be prioritized into smaller projects, depending on employee exposure, process needs, available outage periods and budget constraints.

If you’re going to replace old gear with new equipment, such as this ground and test device for Magne-Blast switchgear, be sure to test all critical components prior to the outage. Photo: GE

If you’re going to replace old gear with new equipment, such as this ground and test device for Magne-Blast switchgear, be sure to test all critical components prior to the outage. Photo: GE

MT: To get management buy-in, what’s the best way to estimate the return on investment (ROI) and benefits of an upgrade?

Knox: Often the need to upgrade is based on some failure or electrical incident that has caused downtime, equipment damage, or, worst-case scenario, employee injury.

When you look at the cost associated with downtime and/or injury, it’s fairly easy to calculate ROI if the project is done in a phased approach. Some trip unit, relay, and breaker upgrades can be done under the threshold of a maintenance budget.

MT: Are there any budget-friendly ways to upgrade a legacy system?

Knox: Yes, there are. It’s important to look at upgrade options that solve the most problems with minimal disruption to plant operations and equipment.

Consider, for example, if a single upstream breaker/relay combination in the facility can reduce arc-flash exposure for downstream feeder breakers without upgrading each breaker. Does the site have unused spare breakers that can be rotated out with a local service shop for upgrades that can later be installed during a short outage?

If a plant is updating old relays and meters, it should get new doors with new components prewired. This allows a shorter outage while equipment is being replaced. Also, “replacing the guts” in the existing compartment in a field outage can help reduce upgrade costs, assuming the new equipment has been pre-determined to fit the compartment and it can be easily wired. MT

Danita Knox is senior product manager for Power Delivery Services within GE Energy Connections, headquartered in Atlanta.

Steps to a Successful Power-System Upgrade

According to GE’s Danita Knox, as a site prepares for a power-system upgrade, it’s important to identify and select a reputable vendor that’s experienced, trained, and knowledgeable in designing this type of complex project. A power-system upgrade includes these steps:

  • Budgeting for hardware, software, and labor.
  • Development of a project schedule and careful outage planning for the upgrade.
  • Design of the system and procurement of all components prior to the outage.
  • Labor and logistics planning for the outage to ensure that work is completed on time.
  • Testing of all critical components prior to the outage.
  • Failure mode and effects analysis to plan for challenges during the outage and prepare solutions or workarounds.
  • Site safety and work policy that includes LOTO (lock-out/tag-out) training and documentation.

“During the upgrade,” Knox said, “an experienced project manager with a background in power systems is indispensable. Many facilities operate continuously with infrequent planned outages. Careful planning and execution is required to maximize work and re-energize systems in a timely manner.”

Knox advises creating a detailed schedule and work procedures early on, including planning types of labor and required skill-sets and procuring all materials well in advance. “Regarding procurement,” she cautioned, “be careful to consider smaller items, such as personal protective equipment and installation components. If these small details are missed in outage planning, they can create schedule slippage, safety risks, or technical errors while limiting the amount of work accomplished.”


2:02 pm
May 16, 2016
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Final Thought: The Reliability of Everything (RoE)

Cklaus01By Dr. Klaus M. Blache, Univ. of Tennessee, Reliability & Maintainability Center

Why is reliability attracting so much attention? It’s connected to everything.

Many phone calls I field these days involve requests for reliability and maintainability information or training or assistance in hiring RME (Reliability and Maintainability Engineering) graduates (of which some companies seek more than 20). On a broader scale, my recent online search for “reliability jobs” turned up 127 million, including 870,000 for “reliability engineering,” 392,000 for “reliability technicians,” and 301,000 for “reliability engineering managers.” To understand what’s fueling this situation, let’s examine the following four areas. (When I use the term reliability, I’m typically referring to reliability and maintainability [R&M].)

Access to knowledge has improved. More reliability knowledge is available, and it’s more understandable and easily applied. Visibility and awareness are also higher. The slim R&M professional-development pickings of yesteryear have grown to include more than 10 annual conferences and untold numbers of other training offerings. The workforce’s interest in professional growth that’s been building over decades is also capturing the attention of increasing numbers of employers. During my two-year chairmanship of SMRP (Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals), shortly after the society formed, we just hoped to get enough attendees to our conferences to cover expenses. That situation has changed dramatically, due, in large part, to the emphasis other conferences, publications, and information portals have put on R&M. Better and standardized processes, i.e., the SMRP Body of Knowledge and Uptime Elements, also exist. While R&M professionals still need to personalize their “roadmaps,” these types of foundational resources are a good start.

Screen Shot 2016-05-16 at 9.00.40 AMMore people, at all levels, “get it.” Reliability used to mainly be something engineers “did.” Today, it’s often considered part of everyone’s job, and there’s a clear role for technicians/trades, engineers, and leaders in supporting an R&M vision. Students are also gaining early exposure and experience in the field. For example, in the past five years, the Univ. of Tennessee College of Engineering has graduated about 300 students with RME undergraduate minor and/or graduate degrees. Interestingly, today there are about as many technicians and trades pursuing R&M professional development opportunities as engineers. Managers are seeking specific guidance regarding training and implementation versus just wanting general help. Reliability is also becoming more integrated in plant and corporate business plans with leadership goals.

Reliability can improve most (maybe all) key business metrics. Reliability and maintainability have a positive impact on safety, people, quality, productivity, and costs (what every company targets). Use of the R&M relationship in these areas as a competitive advantage is generating numerous success stories. Organizations can leverage R&M to attain top-quartile performance if they know how to implement it and on what performance indicators to focus. (Note: SMRP and the Univ. of Tennessee are teaming up to provide six metric areas, by industry type, that enable top-quartile performance in the five target areas. Contact me regarding participation.)

Reliability gets results in all types of organizations. Remember that reliability includes people, product, processes (engineering and machinery and equipment), all assets, and facilities, across all sectors. Some operations I’ve recently been involved with (from airlines to mining, pharma, and everything in between) have wanted to drive overall continuous improvement; many have wanted to increase uptime and reduce costs. Reliability, when properly strategized and aligned, can support a variety of other initiatives, i.e., Lean and TPM (Total Productive Maintenance). Specifically, organizations can leverage reliability to build best practices, including precision maintenance, repeatable production processes within specifications, and Weibull analyses to monitor reliability growth.

Think of reliability in Internet of Things (IoT) terms. Just as the IoT reflects connectivity among countless physical objects and networks, the Reliability of Everything (RoE) connects and improves all parts of your business. MT

Based in Knoxville, Klaus M. Blache is director of the Reliability & Maintainability Center at the Univ. of Tennessee, and a research professor in the College of Engineering. Contact him at


6:16 pm
May 3, 2016
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Predicting Maintenance at Hannover MESSE

One of the specialty areas set up at the Hannover MESSE show (April 25 to 29, Hannover, Germany) was called predictive maintenance. It was a rather mixed bag of equipment/brand-specific offerings and predictive maintenance “tools” for general use. Here’s what some of the exhibitors had to offer.–Gary L. Parr, editorial director

They weren’t in the actual predictive-maintenance area, but Azima DLI, Woburn, MA, was exhibiting their Trio C10 Series ruggedized 10-in. tablets. The tablets are vibration data collectors and diagnostic instruments. The CX10 is a diagnostic data collector/expert analyzer and the CA10 is a vibration data collector/field analyzer. They are loaded with the company’s ExpertAlert diagnostic software.

Festo, the pneumatics and automation company based in Hauppauge, NY, demonstrated a predictive software component for their systems that takes advantage of Internet of Things technology to monitor all aspects of the automation system.

Hydac Filter Systems, Bethlehem, PA, demonstrated a turnkey fluids condition monitoring unit that can be used in retrofit and new hydraulic applications. The unit uses an optical particle counter and a multi-parameter sensor that measures temperature, water content, conductivity, and dielectric constant.

Asseco Solutions AG, Karlsruhe, Germany, offered their Smart Connected Solutions software, which is a subscription-based service that helps companies map all of their service and maintenance processes. The software manages data from individual sensors to deployment planning and on-site maintenance and documentation. SCS can be linked, using standard interfaces, to a wide range of ERP solutions, in addition to supporting processes such as invoicing. (An English version of the site doesn’t appear to exist.)

Bruel & Kjaer Vibro, Darmstat, Germany, demonstrated their turnkey vibration monitoring system. The system can be used on any rotating machinery, consists of all necessary hardware and software, and is scalable from a single machine to an entire plant. They also offer installation service training.

Aventics Corp., Lexington, KY, was showing their sensors and software system for monitoring pneumatics. The Industry 4.0-ready system monitors all aspects of a pneumatic system, including shock absorbers, positioning, and speed. Software tracks and analyses data, providing reports of declining performance.


5:05 pm
April 14, 2016
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Video | Deep Dive on Condition Monitoring Services

Kory Chance, instrumentation and controls technician at the City of Ames, Iowa municipal power plant discusses some of the benefits in moving to a valve condition monitoring service from Emerson Process Management. Chance reveals the benefits of having an outside condition-monitoring service for such a small operation and be able to remove certain preventative maintenance routines.